Every week each of our Movies and Music Library Team will be bringing you the best of what we're watching and listening to so you can enjoy it too.
This theme is a great time to revisit Of Monsters and Men's music video for Little Talks. Released a decade ago (time flies!), the video features a distinctive animation style that still looks good today. And of course, lots of mythical creatures.
You can check the whole album out from the library.
If you love werewolf films you are in luck, we carry a bunch of them on Blu-ray!
Some of my most beloved films that incorporate Myths & Monsters are the following:
Attack the Block - "Inner City vs Outer Space," the tagline says it all!
Cloverfield - There is a really large monster in this "found footage" film. A word of caution: The jerky cameras in this one are a bit sickening.
Labyrinth - The puppeteering magic of Jim Henson with music and acting from David Bowie.
Monsters, Inc. - This was the first movie my son saw in the theaters. Aww! I also thoroughly enjoyed riding the Monsters, Inc. ride (more than once) at Disney's California Adventure Park over the summer.
Willow - I recently watched a documentary about Val Kilmer, called Val, so I've got him on the brain. He stars in this delightful fantasy film.
The Greek myths have been told and retold in so many variations, transferred to different time periods and locations, updated and altered. One of the most performed myths in different guises is the myth of Orpheus.
The popular 2019 Tony-award winning musical Hadestown is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Before the show was conceived, it was already a concept album. Check it out on cd or stream it on Freegal. The story, music and lyrics are by Anais Mitchell. The Broadway cast recording is also also available. It's a great show - here's a video of NPR's tiny desk concert with cast members performing songs from the show.
Another great take on the Orpheus myth takes place in Rio de Janeiro during Carnivale. The classic Portuguese movie Black Orpheus is also known for its famous score by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfa which introduced the world to samba bossa nova. Black Orpheus is on Kanopy and dvd/bluray and the soundtrack is available as well.
Then there's Orpheus, the 1950 black and white avant-garde French update by Jean Cocteau, which is the central part of his Orphic trilogy (Blood of a Poet, Orpheus, Testament of Orpheus) Although Roger Ebert added it to his "Great Movies" list, praising the "simple but ingenious special effects", and Akira Kurosawa cited it as one of his favorite movies, I find it a bit flat and not representative of the actual myth. Maybe since both Cocteau and Orpheus are poets, the director identified a little too strongly with Orpheus and centered the myth on the idea of the immortality of the poet - just my opinion.
The world of opera really took to this myth as well. There's Orpheus and Eurydice by Christoph Gluck, which is coming to San Francisco opera this fall. Way before that, in 1607, Monteverdi wrote L'Orfeo, the first opera masterpiece. Most recently, Philip Glass adapted the Cocteau film for his opera, L'Orphee. It's a tragic tale, but Jacques Offenbach lampooned it in his comic opera Orpheus in the Underworld, also streaming. In this version, Orpheus and Eurydice are sick of each other and Orpheus kills her, but then public opinion turns against him, and to save his honor, he has to go down to hell to retrieve her.
A fun movie loosely based on the Odyssey by Homer is O Brother Where Art Thou? In fact the film opens with the same line that opens the epic poem: "O Muse! Sing in me, and through me tell the story.." The main character played by George Clooney is named Ulysses Everett McGill and his wife is Penny (Penelope). The Cyclops shows up in the form of one-eyed Big Dan Teague, played by John Goodman and the Sirens are 3 women who tempt the men with their singing and ply them with alcohol. In both versions, Everett/Ulysses must get home to stop his wife from marrying her suitor and succeeds after overcoming many obstacles. But you can enjoy this movie and the great soundtrack without ever once thinking of the Odyssey.
I can't think of movies and myths and monsters without thinking of the pioneering special effects artist Ray Harryhausen. His use of stop motion animation to create otherworldly creatures is still striking and powerful today, even though his work has a very different look than the digital animation we have become used to in current film.
Have you ever said something you regretted?
We all have.
Have you ever done it while a vengeful goddess was listening and then gotten your daughter cursed to die in the tentacles of a titan??
Hopefully not, however that is the unenviable situation that Queen Cassiopeia finds herself in the now classic film Clash of the Titans. It's wall to wall great actors (Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith, Sian Phillips, etc.) having an awesome time as the immortals and mortals conflicting over the fate of ancient Greece and the hero Perseus while Harryhausen's superb animation gives life to the many outlandish creatures that populate the landscape. It was remade with a somewhat different plot and updated (but less imaginative) effects.
Almost any Harryhausen film will have great creature effects but he tackled myths in a few more films. Most notably, the fantastic Jason and the Argonauts with its famous skeleton army and the magical Seventh Voyage of Sinbad with menacing cyclops and an amazing cobra woman sequence. Both films feature truly fantastic scores by Bernard Herrmann (Vertigo, North by Northwest). The Jason and the Argonauts score is available on Freegal and is great stand alone listen.
One of the great directors working today who conjures great monsters is Guillermo del Toro. From his reimagining the Creature from the Black Lagoon as a love story in the Oscar winning Shape of Water to his monster extravaganzas, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army and finally to the creatures of a child's fantasy in Pan's Labyrinth, del Toro has led the way for some of the most intriguing creatures in the movies. All these movies are worthwhile for fans of myths and monsters.
The mask Michael Myers wears in Halloween (1978) is actually this type of mask painted white.
Last Week's Trivia Answer: Blackjack